Milt Schmidt, the Bruins Hall of Fame center who helped lead the team to two Stanley Cup championships as a player, and as general manager during the late 1960s set the stage for two more, died Wednesday. He was 98.
“There’s two guys over there in Boston that I played against and respected,” late Hall of Famer Gordie Howe once said. “Guys that I really admired as well. Bobby Orr and Uncle Miltie. He was a hard-nosed player, a great skater, a great playmaker, a great competitor.”
“When people today talk about ‘Bruins Hockey,’ they talk about the style that Milt created, and generations of Bruins after him tried to emulate,” said Bruins president Cam Neely. “He will be dearly missed.”
Mr. Schmidt was the linchpin of the famed “Kraut Line,” whose others members were his boyhood friends Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. The trio’s shared German ancestry inspired the nickname. They finished 1-2-3 in scoring in the National Hockey League in 1940, with Mr. Schmidt coming in first.
The Kraut Line was the centerpiece of Bruins squads that won the Stanley Cup in 1939 and 1941. Mr. Schmidt and his linemates might well have brought the team additional championships had they not been inducted into the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942.
“Milt has been one of the most respected and friendly human beings that I have ever met and spent time with,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Losing Milt, who spent his life dedicated to the game of hockey, is a great loss for the Boston Bruins organization and the entire hockey community.”
Mr. Schmidt, who spent his entire career with the Bruins, was a four-time All-Star. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player in 1951. He played 776 games, scored 229 goals, and recorded 346 assists. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.
The Bruins retired his number, 15, in 1980.
“It would be a challenge to find anyone who took greater pride in being a Boston Bruin than Milt Schmidt did,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “Milt was a landmark presence in Boston’s sports landscape. The NHL family cherishes his contribution to our history.”
Mr. Schmidt’s greatest contribution to Bruins history may not have come on the ice but over the telephone. In 1967, he pulled off one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history, acquiring future Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks for Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin, and Jack Norris.
“I had no idea how it would turn out for us,” Mr. Schmidt later said. “But at the time I made the trade, I knew that we couldn’t help but improve the team by making it.”
Improve the team it did. Mr. Schmidt’s canny trading added further pieces to the puzzle, such as Johnny “Pie” McKenzie and Eddie Shack. The new acquisitions, joining such standouts as Orr and Johnny Bucyk, helped form the heart of the “Big Bad Bruins” squads that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and ’72.
“He was like a big brother to me in his coaching days and his GM days, and ever since after that we were very close friends,” said Bucyk, a former Bruins captain. “He just loved the Bruins, to this day.”
“He was a legendary personality in the Bruins organization and goes down in history as the ultimate Bruin,” said team owner Jeremy Jacobs.
Mr. Schmidt, who spent four seasons as Bruins captain, was known as an aggressive playmaker and fierce competitor. How fierce? Over the course of 16 seasons, he sustained numerous injuries, including a broken jaw, torn rib cartilage, ligament damage to both knees, a broken collarbone, ankle and shoulder fractures. He eventually underwent three hip replacements.
“I set off metal detectors at Logan,” Mr. Schmidt joked in a 2002 Globe interview. “It’s like a trailer hitch, heavy as hell, but I’m still active.”
Mr. Schmidt retired in 1955 and next season became the Bruins coach, a position he held until the end of the 1962 season. He returned to the job in 1963, until joining the front office as assistant general manager in 1966. He served as general manager from 1967-73.
“I want to be known as someone who tried their very best all the time,” he said in that Globe interview.
Milton Conrad Schmidt was born on March 5, 1918, in Kitchener, Ontario, the son of Carl and Emma Schmidt. His future linemate Dumart also grew up in Kitchener. Bauer was from nearby Waterloo.
A multitalented athlete, Mr. Schmidt was good enough at baseball to be offered a tryout by the St. Louis Cardinals and at golf to carry a 5 handicap. But hockey was his love.
The Toronto Maple Leafs expressed an interest in signing Mr. Schmidt, but decided against it because of his small stature. What Toronto owner Conn Smythe hadn’t realized was that Mr. Schmidt was only 16. A late growth spurt made him a 6-footer. At the urging of his junior hockey teammates Dumart and Bauer, the Bruins signed him in 1935.
“If it wasn’t for hockey, I’d probably have spent my life working in an ice house or for the Doon Twine Co., in Kitchener,” Mr. Schmidt said in a 1988 Globe interview.
Mr. Schmidt saw his first NHL action in 1936. He joined a team that featured future Hall of Famers Eddie Shore and Dit Clapper. Next season the Kraut Line was formed. Aside from three years of wartime service, it stayed together until 1947, when Bauer retired. It remains together, in the Hall of Fame: Dumart was elected in 1992, Bauer in 1996.
One of the most memorable moments in Bruins history came on March 18, 1952, when Bauer came out of retirement to join Dumart in helping Mr. Schmidt record his 200th goal, a notable milestone in that lower-scoring era. Further lending a storybook air to the game, assists on the goal went to Dumart and Bauer.
Even more memorable was the night of Jan. 10, 1942, the Kraut Line’s last game before military induction. The Bruins defeated Montreal, 8-1, at Boston Garden. As the game ended, a sellout crowd began to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened,” Mr. Schmidt once recalled. “The players on both teams lifted the three of us on their shoulders and carried us off the ice and the crowd gave us an ovation. A man couldn’t ever forget a thing like that.”
Mr. Schmidt spent his military service stationed in Ottawa, playing for the RCAF hockey team, and in England, training airmen in survival techniques.
The Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup finals twice in his first four years as coach, and the team’s fortunes improved when he took over as GM. Led by Orr and Esposito, the team enjoyed enormous popularity with its rugged style of play.
“I like to compare the 1970 Bruins to the team we had in ’38-39,” Mr. Schmidt once said. “They had a little bit of everything, including No. 4, and I don’t think I have to tell you who that is [Orr]! They were such a great club; they could play Sunday School hockey, but if you wanted to go into the back streets and have a brawl, well, they do that, too. And they did a fine job of it!”
The team’s success while he was GM made it all the harder for Mr. Schmidt to accept being kicked upstairs in 1972. “I feel like I’ve been shot right between the eyes,” he said, after former coach Harry Sinden was named to succeed him as GM and Mr. Schmidt was given the title of executive director.
Mr. Schmidt left Boston to become general manager of an expansion team, the Washington Capitals. He held that post from 1973-76. He also coached the team for portions of the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons.
He rejoined the Bruins in 1977, serving as director of corporate season ticket sales. He was later manager of the Boston Garden Club.
A 1997 Hockey News poll included Mr. Schmidt among the top 50 players in NHL history. He also was recently named one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players, who are being celebrated as part of the league’s 100th anniversary this season.
“There’s no secret to long life,” he said in that 2002 Globe interview. “It’s my work ethic. I hated to lose.”
Mr. Schmidt’s wife, Marie, died in 1999. He is survived by a son, Conrad, and a daughter, Nancy.